LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Justin Fischer knows how to take advantage of an opportunity.
When the sophomore running back transferred to Lakewood Ranch, he was buried down on the Mustangs depth chart.
But then things started happening. The team's leading rusher from last year was lost for the season with a knee injury, and his replacement missed a couple of games for personal reasons.
It gave Fischer an opportunity, and he literally ran with it.
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Heading into the Mustangs' district encounter with North Port, Fischer leads the team with 338 rushing yards and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry with two touchdowns. His fourth-quarter productivity was needed in Lakewood Ranch's victory over archrival Braden River earlier this season.
"I am not really that surprised. I put in a lot of hard work, and I see what hard work gets for you," the Out-Of-Door-Academy transfer said. "The competition is tougher here. You face a lot bigger people. They are not much faster, but they are more athletic and maybe the games are more intense be
cause of the fans and the atmosphere."
Lakewood Ranch offensive coordinator Mic Koczersut initially wasn't sure what he had in Fischer, who was not with the team for spring practice. But as he got to see the sophomore play more, he saw the Mustangs have a special kind of player.
"Justin has picked up stuff quickly and has done a great job. He has made people miss when he had to make people miss," Koczersut said. "He has very good vision and sees things very well. He runs hard and has done everything we have asked. His best trait is that he wants to learn."
After struggling in the first half, Fischer had his breakout game against archrival Braden River, when he ran for 123 yards and broke free for a 51-yard touchdown run that put the Mustangs in position to win the game.
"When I came in at halftime, I am telling myself that I am not doing anything and I've got to step it up," Fischer said. "It's like when I came here. I said to myself if I see a chance (to play), I've got to take it."
Last week against Charlotte was tough, but he and quarterback Chad Rex led the ground game with 58 yards apiece.
Fischer had to make a few mental adjustments this season. His two older brothers, Steve and Ryan, played for Braden River so he had to switch allegiance from one rival to another.
He credits his father, Steven, and his uncle (from his mother's side), Tony Squiitieri, for providing him with knowledge and tools to succeed. Both played at Cape Coral Mariner. Tony was a quarterback at Rhode Island and played several years in the Arena Football League for the Arizona Rattlers.
"My uncle Tony was a quarterback, and my dad played receiver and linebacker, so they were different. But they both told me to run hard up and down the field," Fischer said. "I am more of a north-and-south runner. I like that more than being out on the perimeter. I am not much of a dancer. I like going through the tackles."
His father said Justin transferred to Lakewood Ranch because his younger sister goes there, and his brother will be a freshman at the school next year.
"It was hard for me after watching my other two boys play for Braden River and having all that maroon in my house," Steven Fischer said. "All my boys are on the small side, but Justin developed early. He had sleep apnea when he was younger, but went through a major growth spurt when he was 12. We just tell him to play hard-nosed football, and he has done that."
Koczersut is particularly impressed with Fischer because he is running behind a young offense line that starts four sophomores and has made its share of mistakes.
"I like them. They are real big, and we are building good chemistry," Justin Fischer said.